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Bread(fruit), the Staff of Life

By Office of Communication Services    Published on 12/28/2015 More stories >>

Dr. Noa Lincoln is excited about the tremendous
potential of ‘ulu in the Islands.

Dr. Noa Lincoln is excited about the tremendous potential of ‘ulu in the Islands.

The time for breadfruit is now,” says Noa Lincoln of the Department of Tropical Plant and Soil Sciences. The Islands are heading for an ‘ulu renaissance: at least 5,000 trees have been planted here in the last five to seven years. Soon they’ll start fruiting, eventually producing 500 pounds of breadfruit per tree per year, a total of 2.5 million pounds annually!

Dr. Lincoln credits the Breadfruit Institute and its director, Dr. Diane Ragone (CTAHR’s 2015 Outstanding Alumna), for their tremendous work in both research and outreach, discovering which cultivars were best suited to different locations and how best to grow them as well as giving away trees to NGOs and individuals. This bounty is great news for food security, but the burgeoning industry will need a lot of support in terms of organization, infrastructure, and information to use it most successfully.

Dr. Alvin Huang enlisted celebrated Italian
pasta-makers to experiment with a gluten-free ‘ulu pasta.

Dr. Alvin Huang enlisted celebrated Italian pasta-makers to experiment with a gluten-free ‘ulu pasta.

Collaboration and shared vision are important, emphasizes Dr. Lincoln, for issues from shared processing equipment to coordinating harvest cycles to avoid periods of market glut and scarcity. He also prizes another kind of collaboration—between plants, explaining that breadfruit thrives in the mixed agroforestry conditions in which it’s traditionally been grown, rather than as a monocrop, something that probably explains why it’s so free of pests and diseases.

Collaborator and colleague Alvin Huang, of the Department of Human Nutrition, Food and Animal Sciences, has lots of ideas about how best to use ‘ulu. He is researching ways the perishable crop can be processed for longer shelf life, offering the potential for much-needed income to small Pacific islands and bringing an important new product to market: gluten-free breadfruit flour.

Dr. Huang is a key member of the Pacific Region Breadfruit Initiative, which won an Award of Excellence in 2014 from the University Economic Development Association. He’s created a prototype solar dryer built inside a used 20-foot freight container that can remove 300 pounds of water, which is about 90% of the moisture in a 500-pound batch of raw breadfruit, over a four-hour period. Containers will be able to move between the islands in Polynesia, Melanesia, and Micronesia, loading up breadfruit, drying it, and shipping it to food manufacturers to make a surprising variety of products. Those he’s already tested include pasta, senbei, arare, and a Cheerios-type cereal. Tasters, processers, and producers would agree—‘ulu is a crop whose time has come!